The Book: Part Seven
Morguss finally leaned back, an empty potion bottle in her hand.
“She’s broken nearly every bone in her body,” she whispered to the other witches stood nervously behind her. “The potion should take care of that, but she’ll need time to sleep it off.”
“Can’t you rush it along?” Jerdana asked.
Morguss shot her a glare.
“No,” she growled.
“We need to know where the book is!” Jerdana said, nervously playing with her hair.
“We don’t even know if she was talking about the right book,” Kauvara said calmly.
“She said she knew where our book is!” Sophie pointed out.
“Still, she said it to Edna,” Kauvara reasoned. “This isn’t someone you sent on one of your quests, is it?”
Edna shook her head.
“On the broomstick, she asked me to help her,” Edna said sadly. “Who knows what this girl has been through to get to us?”
“She fell from the sky...” the Fortune Teller said distantly. “You don’t think that maybe... a Faerie dropped her?”
“We’d know,” Morguss said as she dabbed Maria’s forehead with a wet towel. “Finding the book is something the Faeries would want to rub in our faces.”
“All we can do is wait until she wakes up,” Edna told them.
All eyes rested on Maria, lying battered and broken on Edna’s bed.
John was already half way across the Endless Plains. The cityscape of Neopia Central loomed on the horizon, and there wasn’t a trace of a Witch or Faerie in sight. His contact in the Circle of the Crimson Circle would probably be unhappy, he was late after all. Still, a late delivery was better than no delivery. John held the book close to his side as he ran. He wouldn’t let it out of his sight, not again.
Maria’s eyes flicked open in shock. The pain hit her a moment later; her entire body ached to the core. She could barely move, but she made the effort, sitting up in the bed. She was in a bed in a dingy room; a moth ridden blanket was placed over her body. A leaky roof was dripping somewhere in the distance, and there were spyderwebs all over the place.
Was this how witches lived? Maria didn’t like it all that much.
“She’s awake,” Morguss said loudly from nearby, the other witches came running.
The Darigan witch put her hand softly on Maria’s forehead.
“Be careful, dear,” she told the young barmaid. “That was quite a fall you had. I gave you a potion to heal you, but you’ll be stiff for a few hours yet.”
“Thank you,” Maria said weakly, her throat was dry and sore.
Edna sat down on the end of the bed.
“You said something about a book,” the Zafara inquired.
The situation suddenly returned to Maria’s mind.
“Yes,” she replied, “the magic book, that is to say the book of magic, Esmeralda’s book. I know where it is.”
“Where, dear?” Morguss asked. “Do the Faeries have it?”
There was a sense of barely disguised fear in her voice. It was quite out of place for a witch, but Maria understood why. The book was important to the witches, more important than anything.
“A Lupe named John, he’s taking it to Neopia Central,” Maria told her.
“Is he dangerous, a wizard?” Sophie asked from the doorway.
“No, he’s not a wizard, but he’s dangerous,” Maria said weakly.
“Why is he taking it to Neopia Central?” Kauvara asked.
“He’s selling it to someone, but he’s lied such a lot about who,” Maria told her, “It could be Faeries, Neopets or anyone.”
“Do you think you are well enough to walk, dear?” Edna asked.
“I... think so,” Maria replied.
“I hate to make you do this, but we’ll have to take you to the city. All our fates lie in your hands now,” Edna told her.
“Broomsticks again?” the Fortune Teller sighed.
“Broomsticks again,” Edna confirmed.
The witches flew through the night, silhouetted against the moon like a colony of Korbats. The frail Maria clung tightly around Edna’s waist; she’d never flown by broomstick before. It she was honest, it made her feel slightly queasy... or maybe that was just the potion Morguss gave her.
“I think the secret society is our best bet,” Kauvara shouted across at the other witches.
“You’ll be able to find it, hidden in the city?” Maria asked quietly.
It was a still night; her voice carried despite its volume.
“There’s a secret society on every street corner in Neopia Central,” Kauvara explained. “We’ll be able to find one, just not necessarily the right one.”
“Then we’ll have to find them all,” Edna said confidently. “We’re so close to finding the book... and to losing it. We can’t hold anything back.”
“Thank you,” Maria said to Edna. “Thank you for helping me. I couldn’t stop him onboard the ship, he had the book.”
Edna turned her head round slightly.
“You can’t do magic without the book?” she asked.
Maria looked away.
“No...” she confessed.
Edna was silent for a moment.
“Can you remember the words of a spell you cast?” the witch asked eventually.
Maria closed her eyes, trying to remember a spell. The one that had conjured up the flare on the island was first in her mind.
“Astus Meraray, Clostus Fume,” she repeated to herself.
Edna nodded. “Sounds reasonable.”
She turned her head back to the front, leaving Maria alone with her thoughts. Had Edna just tested her? Would she be allowed to be a witch? Maria couldn’t imagine going back to the Rusty Dubloon, not after her adventure. Her only chance was to convince Edna to teach her some magic.
The witches touched down in Neopia Central at midnight. The streets were practically deserted, but the nosy inhabitants of the city twitched open their curtains to see what all the commotion was about.
“Right,” Edna announced loudly, “we have no time to lose, let’s spread out in pairs and find it. Follow your instincts.”
“Most of the societies will be meeting in backrooms, or shady alleyways, search there first,” Kauvara instructed, taking Kayla with her.
Edna grabbed Maria by the shoulder.
“You can come with me,” she said kindly.
Edna led her off towards the nearest dark alley.
“You know, a lot of people on Krawk Island say that witches are evil...” Maria said, making conversation, “but I always knew they were wrong. Here you are, fighting to save Neopia’s magic.”
Edna glanced sceptically at Maria.
“A lot of people on Krawk Island are right,” she said as she peered though a window, “but a lot of people on Krawk Island are also wrong.”
“I don’t understand,” Maria replied.
“Being a witch isn’t about being good or evil,” the old Zafara explained. “There’s no such thing as a good witch or a bad witch; we’re all a little of both some of the time.”
“So you choose to be good or evil?” Maria asked.
“No, it doesn’t work like that.” Edna sighed. “We’re like Faeries, only more down to earth. Faeries think they do a great service to the world by rewarding good people and helping get rid of bad people; they want to see a world where everything is perfect. They’re deluding themselves. There’s no such thing as perfection. Witches understand that the world needs good and bad people to work. If everyone was good, we’d all be spoilt, unthankful little upstarts. If everyone was bad, well, I’m sure you can imagine what the world would be like. Witches know that we have to keep a balance between the two, so sometimes if people are getting a little too good, we curse them. If they are getting a little too evil, we bring them back down to size. People may hate us sometimes, but witches keep this world turning... aha!”
Edna stopped outside a small door and burst it open with her surprisingly strong foot. The moonlight shone in from outside, illuminating the dozen or so black-clad Neopets inside. There was a podium at the far end of the room.
“Show me the book!” Edna commanded.
Shaking slightly, the Neopet on the podium held up the book he had been reading from. It was a copy of ‘Know Your Motes’. Edna scowled at the dark figures.
“No help at all!” she shouted, turning and marching off into the darkness.
Maria followed in her wake.
As the witches searched, Neopia Central gradually became chaotic. At first, the witches just knocked politely on a few doors. When Neopets in their bedclothes came to the door stretching and yawning, it became clear there wasn’t a secret society meeting within, so the witches made their excuses and left. Morguss and Lisha found a few dark meetings, but most of them were reading from books like the ‘Budget Shopping Guide’ or ‘How to Stay Fit’ – books that weren’t remotely mystical, but if read in the right way could appear to hold a little magic. There wasn’t a trace of the Book of the Crimson Circle, though, and the witches began to get aggravated. They began to blast open doors and transform people who were not immediately cooperative into Mortogs. Before long, there were Neopets fleeing through the streets in terror, the witches stalking from house to house with looks of steely determination in their eyes. They didn’t care who knew anymore; they needed their book, and they needed it quickly.
“Is the Celestial Portal sealed?” the Grand Master asked in the darkness.
He was expecting a moronic reply.
“Yes, Grand Master,” a voice from the back came.
This caught the Grand Master slightly off guard.
“Err... good,” he replied. “Who holds the Beacon of Souls?”
“I do, oh Grand Master,” the voice of Clive the Beacon Bearer answered from the darkness.
They’ve actually got it! the Grand Master thought to himself.
“Then step forward,” he commanded. “Light the Beacon, so that our fragile souls can be gathered unto it.”
Clive the Beacon Bearer stepped forward with the white candle and placed it in the centre of the red circle. He lit it with a match, and stepped back into the darkness.
“Good,” the Grand Master said with genuine relief. “I call to order the Second meeting of the Circle of the Crimson Circle. We shall begin with a reading from the holy book. Has Brother Placid Hands recovered it from the heretic?”
There was a cough in the darkness, deep and deliberate.
“The heretic asked if he could sit in on the meeting, your Grand Masterfulness,” the timid voice of Placid Hands answered.
“Ah,” the Grand Master hesitated, before being struck with inspiration, “Good, my brothers, we already have our first convert! Soon we shall re-write the pages of history according to our law!”
There was a murmur of agreement.
“Bring forth the book, Brother Placid Hands,” the Grand Master commanded.
The small cloaked figure of Placid Hands skirted round the outside of the circle and delivered the book to the Grand Master on his podium. The leader stroked his hand over the cover of the book. It seemed to almost tingle. Was it just excitement that things were finally going right? Perhaps the book had a deeper power...
“And now, I shall read from the holy book,” the Grand Master boomed.
He opened the cover, lit a small match which he used to in turn light a small white candle, and leaned closer.
To be continued...